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Peter Mansbridge interviews Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2008. (CBC)
Peter Mansbridge interviews Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2008. (CBC)

John doyle: Television

One will get you three if you fund the CBC Add to ...

Say what you want about the CBC - and I have - but there are two undeniable facts about the broadcaster. First, it costs roughly $1-billion a year. Second, that cost puts it constantly under assault.

Recent years of minority Conservative governments and the arrival of a majority have emboldened CBC-haters. What the CBC costs taxpayers is a weapon to wield against it and CBC bashing has reached a new level of hysteria. There are people who want to dance on its grave.

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The existence of, and the content provided by, the CBC has been encased in a fragile accommodation in Canada for years. The broadcaster is precariously poised between the need for commercial and ratings success on one side and its role as cultural institution on the other. For a time, the CBC seemed to oscillate between mandates and then the cultural institution role - especially in television - appeared to dissolve.

Well, here's news: One will get you three when you fund the CBC. Say it aloud and say it proud if you support the public broadcaster.

The release on Wednesday of a study of the economic impact of the CBC/Radio-Canada affirms that money that goes to the CBC is well spent, a wise investment. "CBC/Radio-Canada's net value added, the net contribution to the economy in 2010 is estimated to be $1.3-billion. In the context of the parliamentary appropriation this means that the direct government funding of $1.1-billion not only contributed to the gross value added for CBC/Radio-Canada of $3.7-billion, but also created additional value of $1.3-billion to the Canadian economy compared to an alternative use of the funding and a media sector in which CBC is only supported by commercial revenue streams."

The study, done by Deloitte & Touche, makes the reasonable points, based on facts, that money spent on the CBC supports jobs and businesses across Canada. Like the best public investments, it not only provides a key service, it also is expected to have a positive economic spinoff. And it does.

Now then, the other day I complained that the arts have essentially disappeared from CBC-TV. It's true and the CBC's assertion that it will air awards shows - the Geminis, the Giller, the new Hilary Weston prize for books and a Christmas special of Handel's Messiah - doesn't compensate. The CBC's role as broadcaster of art-made-for-television, on which it has reneged, is far more important.

To keep all of this in the context of the economic impact of the arts, note that after choreographer Margie Gillis was verbally assaulted recently by Krista Erickson of Sun News over the amount of funding her dance company has received, the Canadian Dance Assembly released a reminder of facts about the arts in Canada. It points out, "The cultural sector has about 600,000 workers, which is about double the level of employment in the forestry sector in Canada (300,000) and more than double the level of employment in Canadian banks (257,000)." The source for these numbers is A Statistical Profile of Artists in Canada: Based on the 2006 Census, Hill Strategies Research, 2009.

Further, the same group asserts, "In 2005, two-thirds of Canadians read a book (66.6 per cent), one in two attended a performance by professional artists or a cultural festival (48.8 per cent), and one in four visited an art gallery (26.7 per cent). And, in 2008, Canadians spent more than twice as much on live performing arts ($1.4-billion) than on sports events ($0.65-billion)." The last statistic is from Survey of Household Spending, Statistics Canada, 2008.

The central argument against funding of the CBC is that the money is wasted and commercial TV can do all that is needed. That argument is, clearly, nonsense. So much Canadian money from commercial broadcasters - profits created through regulation - go to U.S. networks and Los Angeles producers when vast amounts are spent on buying American TV shows.

At the same time, interest in the arts is obviously underestimated both by small "c" conservatives, CBC-haters and the CBC itself. As is the economic impact of the cultural sector in Canada, from public broadcasting to dance. If the CBC can justify its existence in economic terms, it can do better in supporting the arts. And, if the CBC can dodge the possibility of detractors dancing on its grave, it can do more to support dance, music and all the others arts in Canada.

Follow on Twitter: @MisterJohnDoyle

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